The Dismantling of the Schools of Public Engagement at The New School

Yet another reinvention. Which prompted the in-house historians–Mark Larrimore and me–to write this to the executive leadership:

Dear President Shalala, Board Chair Rappaport, Executive Vice-President Diaz, and Provost White,

Since 2010, we have been the in-house historians of The New School. We have taught courses, curated an exhibition, written a book of essays, solicited essays from others, and coalesced research and thinking about this unique institution on a website. As any peek into the New School’s past reveals, the only constant at this school has been change.

The dismantling of SPE is another profound moment of transformation. Since this has been a topic of formal and informal discussion for years, it is perhaps not a surprising move. But it is a significant break with our past. SPE is the most direct link to the founding of the New School for Social Research in 1919; its values have been the foundation of our century of visionary experiments in higher education.

There was little in last week’s communications that evoked these values. There was no mention of our institution’s founding commitment to critique higher education–its functions, structures, or accountability. No attention to the school’s place in New York City as fundamental to how and what we learn. No mention of undergraduate education–the “academic core” of our institution today and at least a harkening to the breadth of what education means in society. Instead, there was a misleading focus on graduate education as the historic mission of the school. 

This transition may offer opportunities for rethinking many elements of undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education. A fuller appreciation of the school’s history on the cutting edge of higher education would not only acknowledge what we are giving up in dissolving SPE, but ensure that the values that have made The New School a prophetic challenge to conventional thinking in higher education live on in what emerges.

We write to compel you to consider these issues as we move forward with another reinvention, this time without a structural tether to our first founding ideas. If we are unique, as Mark Diaz wrote last week, then that requires understanding how we became so, lest we risk losing The New School’s spirit.

Julia Foulkes and Mark Larrimore